Package holiday laws are there for your protection
QUESTION: My friend and I booked a package holiday in the Algarve a few weeks ago. We flew out yesterday – but when we arrived at our hotel, our tour operator advised that due to unforeseen circumstances, the luxury sea-front apartment we had initially booked was no longer available.
The apartment we have been checked into instead does not have a sea view and does not have the superior accommodation we had expected. There is no mention of a refund for the lower standard of accommodation.
What are our rights and can we resolve this while we're on holiday?
Philomena, Clontarf, Dublin 3
ANSWER: The Package Holiday and Travel Trade Act 1995 protects consumers who book a package holiday.
A "package" is defined as a holiday that has been pre-arranged and sold at an inclusive price by a travel agent or tour operator, which covers at least 24 hours (or includes an overnight stay) and comprises at least two of the following components – transport, accommodation, and other tourist services not directly linked to transport or accommodation but which form a significant part of the cost and package (such as guided tours).
This legislation sets out specific rights for consumers, including those which apply in a situation where the agent significantly alters or cancels a package trip. In these circumstances, you should be offered accommodation that is of an equivalent or superior standard to your original booking. If you are offered accommodation that is of a lower standard, you should be offered a refund of the difference in price between the standard you paid for and that which was provided. It should be possible to resolve the situation while you are on holiday by reporting the issue to the agent's local representative.
If this is not possible or if the agent does not have a local representative, you should gather as much evidence as possible to support your case – such as photographs of the accommodation – and write to your travel agent within 28 days of your return home. If you cannot reach a satisfactory resolution with them, you may wish to consider taking a small claims action – as long as the amount of the claim is less than €2,000.
QUESTION: I have been unable to resolve a complaint I had with a furniture shop over a large item I bought from them about a month ago.
I am considering taking a case to the Small Claims Court – but how much will that cost me? How do I go about it? And what kind of compensation could I get if successful?
Gerard, Terenure, Dublin 6
ANSWER: The Small Claims Court provides consumers with a fast and inexpensive means of resolving disputes with traders. You do not need to hire a solicitor.
Consumers can obtain the application forms from their local District Court, which will handle the claim. The forms can also be downloaded from www.courts.ie. You should note that the Small Claims Court only hears claims worth €2,000 or less – so where your claim is for more than this you will have to go through the regular courts system.
The upfront fee for taking a Small Claims action is €25.
If the trader is based in another European country, you can take an action through the European Small Claims Procedure.
Grace Duffy is dispute resolution adviser and case handler with the consumer watchdog, ECC Ireland
Sunday Indo Business